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28225843What’s it all about?

A novel that is simultaneously harrowing, dark, dangerous, funny and uplifting from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy

“Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis.
“Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

Why did I want to read it?

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s Southern Reach trilogy and have been very keen to read more of is work. I thought I’d start here.

What did I think of it?

I loved this book so much, I basically devoured it. It’s everything the blurb says it is, and much more too.

Our protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger in the remnants of a city ravaged by disaster (though we’re not entirely clear what that disaster may have been). She lives in a block of flats which is falling apart with her partner Wick, who knows stuff about biotech and deals in the things that Rachel finds for him.

When out scavenging she comes across Borne (as she names it), a form of biotech which she becomes attached to (not literally) and begins to nurture. It becomes clear that Borne is sentient and develops as a human child would, though with the ability  to change shape (the cover above is I guess a representation of it) and to learn about things by, well, absorbing them (ie eating them).

There is a mystery at the heart of Rachel’s story; she has memories of her past away from the city but her family is gone. There are rivalries between the various communities as they each seek dominance, and there is of course the Company that has created all of the biotech which is swarming around, including an enormous flying bear which I found hard to visualise at first but came to accept quite quickly.

Although there is a conclusion to the story (and a satisfying one at that) the plot is any many ways not the core of why this book is so good. It’s all about the characters and their relationships. This is especially the case with Rachel and Borne; the latter has a very distinctive voice which develops as he grows from toddler to teenager to young adult and learns to navigate the world.

Like I said, I loved this and can’t recommend it highly enough. Go read!

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IMG_0072What’s it all about?

Stevie Flint is a presenter on a TV shopping channel (she used to be a journalist), with a job that seems to suit her (up to a point) and a glamorous doctor for a boyfriend. But something is going wrong in the London she works in; a mysterious disease, “the sweats” is spreading though out the population at a rapid rate. When her boyfriend fails to turn up for their planned date she finds him dead in his flat and of course first thoughts are that he too has succumbed to the same sickness as so many others. But it becomes clear to Stevie that his death doesn’t fit, and she starts to investigate his apparent murder against a backdrop of death and paranoia and societal breakdown.

Why did I want to read this?

I’ve not read much of Louise Welsh’s work but I’ve really enjoyed what I have read, particularly The Girl on the Stairs which was one of my last reads of 2013 and was really gripping, so a dystopian thriller slash murder mystery which is also the first of a trilogy couldn’t be resisted.

What did I think of it?

I enjoyed it so much I mentioned the author in a Tweet (what a fangirl I can be sometimes, even at my age) (and she very kindly replied, even better!).

A Lovely Way to Burn is a really interesting book which starts off with some action (the random shootings carried out by three different people) implying one sort of book and then heads off in a rather different and in some ways more interesting direction.I kept expecting certain things to be connected and was consistently wrong-footed which I particularly liked. Stevie is a fabulous character, strong but vulnerable, and determined to get answers.

I read this in two sittings over a weekend and was desperate to get to the end. The stuff about how quickly society can fall apart under duress was really convincing and provided an unsettling backdrop to what could have been a fairly standard murder mystery. I’m so glad this is part of a series, I can’t wait to see what the next volume has in store. Recommended.

MaddAddamSo, MaddAddam is the final volume in the eponymous trilogy by Margaret Atwood which began with Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood which I have reviewed separately here and here respectively. At the end of the previous volume the various threads of narrative came together and we are now moving forward into the future.

After the man-made plague a small group of humans have survived and we watch them come together and try to form a community and find a way to live in a world where supplies are dwindling, there uncertainty about just how many other people are still alive, and where they have to adapt to sharing the world with the Crakers, a genetically designed species of people who were designed to replace humanity which should have been wiped out. In amongst all this there are two threats: a few extraordinarily unpleasant men who seem to enjoy nothing other than inflicting pain and misery and, more interestingly, the pigoons, genetically modified intelligent carnivorous pigs who become really key to the survival of our little group in quite unexpected ways.

Although the novel is primarily focussed on establishing a new society (albeit a very localised one) there continue to be flashbacks to the past told through the eyes of Zeb who has become the partner of my favourite character Toby, and in telling her his life story illuminates us further on the background to the creation of the plague and the founding of God’s Gardeners, a sect which turns out to have been more than it seemed.

I enjoyed MaddAddam, was pleased to find out more about characters I had come to feel strongly about, but I’m not sure that it really comes to a conclusion, unless the conclusion is that no matter how well you think you have designed something (in this case the Crakers) you cannot plan for everything and once things are out in the world they will develop as they must. And it is very amusing in places.

IMG_0312I’m glad I took the time to read the trilogy so close together as I feel that I might have got lost if I’d read them as they were published; I found them dense (in a good way), lots to think about and jeep track of. If you enjoy speculative fiction you should give these a try.

And I was thrilled to get my copy signed by the great lady herself; more of that in a future post.

Year of the FloodThe Year of the Flood is the second book in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It takes us back to the events described in Oryx & Crake (my review of that is here) but where the first novel told the story of the events around the man-made plague which devastates the world from the inside through one character, Snowman, The Year of the Flood addresses the same events from the perspective of two women in the outside world.

Though it comes as no surprise that, as we work our way through the stories of Ren and Toby, we become aware of links and connections with Snowman’s tale, some more obvious than others.

Ren is an exotic dancer who finds herself trapped in quarantine in the club where she works. Toby has taken refuge in an abandoned health spa and watches and waits on the building’s roof garden. The book alternates between the stories of each woman, and within their individual tales between the present and the past. This helps us build up a picture of the society destroyed by the actions of Crake, and gives us some clues as to why he thought it all had to be wiped away. The segregation, casual violence and exploitation of technology is vividly described in the novel, and the voices of the two women are strong and affecting.

I became particularly fond of Toby as a character, especially her involvement with the sect known as God’s Gardeners and her habit of noting the sermons and saints days and rituals that they practised. And of course her tending of the bees. Inevitably she and Ren come together and the book ends at almost the same point as Oryx & Crake, bringing the two narrative strands together and setting us up for the final instalment.

I loved this book and read it very quickly; middle books often suffer (just like middle films) from being a bridge between the set-up and the denouement and being unresolved in themselves, but I didn’t feel that was the case here at all. Perhaps it was the female point of view, perhaps it was the greater understanding it provided of the world the story is set in, perhaps it was just that I loved Toby so much, but for me (and without pre-empting my review of the final novel) this was the strongest instalment in the trilogy and the one I can see myself going back to. Very enjoyable.

Scan 1I have been reading Margaret Atwood since I got a hold of Lady Oracle when I was 15 years old and was totally smitten; that was *gulp* 36 years ago, which is really hard to have to acknowledge, so let’s move swiftly on. I have always wanted to see her in person so was thrilled to get an opportunity to hear her speak about her newest novel, MaddAddam (more of that in another post). Then I realised that I hadn’t read the previous two volumes in what has become known as the MaddAddam trilogy, so I decided to put that right.

Oryx and Crake is set in the not terribly distant future and is seen through the perspective of Snowman who believes himself to be the only survivor of humankind after a man-made plague has wiped out all but the Crakers, a genetically engineered species of humanoid. The book alternates between the difficult present where Snowman struggles to survive, and his memories of the past where he was Jimmy, the best friend of the man who would become Crake and in love with the beautiful Oryx. Before the great catastrophe, the world (or at least the world that Jimmy knew) was split into the Pleeblands, where the majority of the ordinary population lived, and the various Compounds in which the elite lived and worked for corporations and were involved in experimentation in genetic engineering, producing strange hybrid animals which are now roaming free. Snowman is a sort of guardian to the Crakers, for whom the world was swept clean. Sort of.

I thought this was a wonderful piece of speculative fiction (Atwood doesn’t like this novel to be referred to as science fiction, which I’ll pick up on in a future post). Typically I found the build up to the dreadful events more interesting than Snowman’s current struggles and if I’m honest I found the Crakers a bit irritating at first, but it as it becomes clear that their designer had not been able to remove those human traits that he considered destructive (he was not a fan of speculative fiction) they grew on me, as did Jimmy/Snowman himself.

The ending of the book is inconclusive but I quite liked that, the uncertainty of what was going to happen next seemed to me to fit well with the tone of the novel, although I don’t believe at the time that Atwood had a trilogy planned, though se has said that she realised that readers would have questions which she aimed to respond to in the later books.

This had sufficient impact for me to start the sequel immediately, something that I hardly ever do (in fact I can’t think of the last time that happened). More of that anon.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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